Category Archives: Teacher Effectiveness

Go Forth and Improve, Teacher Preparation Programs. But Don’t Ask How.

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Image by Kevin Dooley via Flickr

A few weeks ago, former Secretary of Education Arne Duncan wrote an open letter calling out education schools. In it, he made several blunt remarks about the quality of teacher preparation programs, including that current teacher training “lacks rigor, is out of step with the times, and […] leaves teachers unprepared and their future students at risk.”

What the former Secretary’s letter didn’t include, however, were specifics on how preparation programs should improve. He talked a lot about grades, and about holding teachers to high standards, but that’s it.

At this point, you may be thinking: “You can’t expect him to get into the nitty gritty! The letter was more an op-ed than a policy brief.”

Sure. But then last week, the Department of Education released the final version of its long-awaited teacher preparation regulations. The regulations are an effort to hold teacher preparation programs accountable for the performance of the teachers they train after those teachers enter the classroom. Using teacher performance data, the regulations require states to create a system that rates programs as effective, at-risk, or low-performing.

Like the open letter, these regulations are devoid of specifics for how programs should improve. They say that states need to provide technical assistance for low-performing programs, for example, but don’t hint at what that support should look like. When the regulations were out for public comment, which were due in February 2015, several commenters suggested that the regulations should include specific prescriptions for what states need to do to support programs — but the Department declined, saying instead that states have “the discretion to implement technical assistance in a variety of ways.”

Why do both of these documents — representing the past and future of the highest education office — say practically nothing about how preparation programs can get better?

The answer is depressing: As a field, we don’t know how to build a better teacher preparation program.

That’s what Melissa Steel King and I found in our latest paper, A New Agenda: Research to Build a Better Teacher Preparation Program. There’s half a century of research on what makes a good teacher, but that research provides only the barest outlines of what an effective preparation program should look like. So much of teacher prep research asks “Does it work?” when really we need to be asking, “How well does it work, for whom, and under what circumstances?” Continue reading

Teacher Shortage? That Depends on Your Definitions of “Supply” and “Demand”

Teachers wanted signI published a blog post late last month questioning the numbers in a recent paper on teacher shortages from the Learning Policy Institute (LPI). After speaking with Linda Darling-Hammond, one of the report’s authors, and reading their written rebuttal, I have a clearer sense of what they did and why their numbers seemed off to me.

From what I can tell, our disagreement centers on their definition of the word “supply.” Their report says this:

In this report, we use a theoretical framework of supply and demand that defines a teacher shortage as an inadequate quantity of qualified individuals willing to offer their services under prevailing wages and conditions.

The last part is key. What they mean by “individuals willing to offer their services under prevailing wages” essentially means “people who will be hired as teachers.” They have no data on job applicants or anyone’s desire or willingness to teach. They do attempt to include people who delay entry into the teaching profession, but their assumptions lead them to exclude almost all of the people who train to become teachers who never land a teaching job.

This is a questionable definition, and it leads to some weird conclusions. Continue reading

Tonight’s VP Debate: Education Predictions

Mike Pence photo via Gage Skidmore

Tim Kaine official Congressional photo

In the first presidential debate last week, education was all but an afterthought. But the issue is likely to get more air time in tonight’s vice presidential debate between Tim Kaine and Mike Pence because both have held positions in local, state, and federal offices and have extensive backgrounds in education.

Here are some topics to listen for in tonight’s debate and their likelihood of being mentioned:

Early Childhood Education: As governors, both Kaine and Pence worked on expanding access to early childhood education. When Kaine ran for Virginia governor in 2005, offering universal prekindergarten to all 4-year-olds in the state was the centerpiece of his education platform. The legislation did not pass, but he has continued to be a staunch supporter of pre-k efforts during his time as an elected official. In 2013 as Governor of Indiana, Pence pushed reluctant Republican leaders in the state legislature to create a publicly funded preschool program for poor children. It opened in 2015 and has more demand than available spots.

  • Likelihood of being mentioned tonight: HIGH. Early childhood education access has been at the forefront of Clinton’s education plan since the beginning of her campaign, and she gave it some attention in the first presidential debate. Expect Kaine to capitalize on this due to his interest and experience with the topic. While the issue is not as much of a hot topic for the Trump campaign, Pence will be able to hold the conversation due to his relevant experience. This may be the education issue that gets the most attention from the two candidates.

School Choice: As governor, Kaine was skeptical of charter schools and other structural reforms. Virginia is home to just nine charter schools, and Kaine did not promote these efforts throughout the state. On the other hand, Pence is a champion of school choice.  As governor, he pushed to expand both charter schools and vouchers. He gave charter schools access to a $50 million fund to help cover the cost of loans for school construction or the purchase of educational technology. And he successfully called for lawmakers to raise the $4,800 cap on vouchers for elementary school students. Continue reading

Updated: There’s A Huge Flaw in the “Teacher Shortage” Data

Update: After speaking with the authors of the Learning Policy Institute report and reading their written rebuttal, I made some changes to the post below and have written a longer piece clarifying the issues here

Earlier this month the Learning Policy Institute (LPI) released a report with the worrying title, “A Coming Crisis in Teaching? Teacher Supply, Demand, and Shortages in the U.S.” Although initial coverage mainly took the report at face value, others have started to push back. The National Council of Teacher Quality’s Kate Walsh noted that teacher supply and demand levels look very different depending on state and subject. Mike Antonucci pointed out that we’ve heard the same “teacher shortage” cry before (by the same people), and it turned out to be very, very wrong. And Dan Goldhaber took the long view by pointing out that, contrary to the current narrative, we’ve ramped up teacher production significantly over the last few decades.

In fact, Goldhaber’s piece contains an important but subtle distinction about the LPI report. (Updated) Notably, LPI’s estimates for the total supply in a given year are so low that they nearly match just the number of people who complete a program in that year.  Continue reading

Lessons Learned from 10 Years of Denver Public School’s Teacher Compensation System

In 2006, Denver voters approved a $25 million annual property tax increase to fund an innovative teacher compensation system for Denver Public School (DPS) teachers called the Professional Compensation System for Teachers, or ProComp. ProComp promised to align teacher pay and student learning. It’s probably safe to say that ten years later, ProComp is likely not in the place that its authors and advocates hoped it would be.

Soon Denver Public Schools and the Denver Classroom Teachers Association will negotiate changes to ProComp and how DPS teachers are paid. Not so serendipitously A+ Colorado, a Colorado research and advocacy organization, is out with a new report that details the history of ProComp and offers recommendations for improving it.

It’s worth analyzing the results of ProComp and considering its future because the system was at the forefront of attempting to connect teachers’ compensation to students’ academic achievement. With help from federal programs like the Teacher Incentive Fund, many districts have since tried similar teacher compensation tactics and others are in negotiations to give it a go. Why? Just like in any other profession, compensation is an incentive employers can use to attract, retain, and leverage human capital talent. But in education, there are a lot of complicating factors that make changing compensation structures difficult. So learning lessons from performance-pay system pioneers like Denver’s ProComp is useful for all districts doing this work.

Here are a few reasons why ProComp isn’t living up to its promise:

It’s unclear if ProComp impacts student achievement. Student achievement in DPS is up from 2006. But there is little evidence that ProComp is a cause of rising student achievement or is even correlated with it.

Teachers who lead students to higher academic achievement do not receive higher compensation under ProComp. One study found that due to how base salaries and bonuses work in ProComp, teachers whose students demonstrated the highest growth in math earned similar amounts to teachers whose students demonstrated the lowest growth in math.

Denver Comp Figure

Click to enlarge. Image via “A Fair Share: A New Proposal for Teacher Pay in Denver”

Continue reading